This piece was originally published by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism as part of a new RJI series. It is used here with permission.
RJI recently asked newsrooms and ad agencies what they are doing today that they weren’t doing a year ago. Turns out quite a lot! This new RJI series will highlight some of the innovations and experiments we discovered and share what leaders are learning along the way.
This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.
The Honolulu Civil Beat’s weekly Facebook Live broadcast is an ongoing experiment for the two-person team behind it as they try out new technology, locations and formats.
During Office Hours, which streams every Friday, Engagement Editor Anthony Quintano and Audience Development Editor Landess Kearns talk about the latest news, ask the audience for feedback and answer viewers’ questions. But they’ve also used the broadcast to raise money for their nonprofit news site, and share internal news.
One lesson has stood out: Greeting folks and reacting to their inquiries on air leads to more interest from viewers, says Quintano.
The duo’s also learned that they get more viewers when they leave the newsroom and take their show outside, whether at the beach or the state capitol.
Typically, Office Hours brings in between 2,000 and 4,000 views but a 42-minute broadcast at the beach resulted in 113 shares and more than 24,000 views. Quintano attributes the higher numbers not just to the scenery, but also people’s interest in seeing the “higher than normal” recent king tides.
Quintano and Kearns recently experimented with 360 video during one broadcast in the newsroom and attracted more than 7,000 views.
RJI Senior Information Specialist Jennifer Nelson visited with Quintano and Kearns to learn more about Office Hours and Civil Beat’s other uses for Facebook Live.
What is Office Hours and what prompted you to launch it?
Kearns: It’s basically an effort to have full transparency with our readers. We have pretty loyal readers so they’re pretty engaged on our Facebook page. But we really just wanted to open a conversation with them so they could give us direct feedback.
Quintano: I came up with the idea last year when I started but I never really pursued it myself. But when Landess came on board with us in January, I felt like it would be better to have someone to banter with.
I come from a real social background. I worked at NBC News for five years and did a lot of livestreaming stuff back then. The biggest way to be successful with livestreams is through engagement and talking to the people who are watching. We streamed a lot of things like press conferences but we didn’t do a lot to directly engage with our readers. We really wanted to have a platform that we could talk directly to folks.
What kinds of resources — extra money, equipment or staff — did it require to launch Office Hours?
Quintano: We didn’t want something that took up a lot of resources or inconvenienced anybody because everybody here is very busy. It’s been the two of us for the most part but we have had some special guests.
Kearns: In terms of equipment it’s as complicated as we want it to be. The first couple of times we streamed, we just used an iPhone — no mics or anything — and a tripod. We’ve also used a camcorder and two microphones, so we’re kind of experimenting with equipment as we go and seeing what works best.
Quintano: Office Hours has given us the opportunity to experiment with the tools we have so we know how to best use them for our other livestreams.
How has your audience responded to Office Hours so far?
Kearns: A lot of people just pop in and say “hello” and say where they’re watching from. That’s been one of the coolest things. Some people are watching from Scotland. It can get really cool to see what kind of reach we’re having. Other times it’s slow.
Quintano: We’ve seen ups and downs in viewing habits but have learned that viewers love when we go on location. We’ve streamed on beaches and on an Air Force base. We’ve seen that viewers love acknowledgement. When we verbally respond to their comments and questions, it keeps them sticking around longer. We also did an Office Hours live in 360 and people got a kick out of the experience. Our last Office Hours we used the donate button on our broadcast and asked folks to support Civil Beat and received donations from five people totaling $200 in a window of 30 minutes.
Now that you have several episodes under your belt, what would you do differently if you were launching Office Hours for the first time?
Kearns: I don’t think I would do anything differently. It’s been such a growing experience. I kind of feel like we begin new each week. We’re just constantly trying to find ways to improve. It’s fun to see the progression.
Quintano: We’ve definitely become more comfortable on camera. If anyone is going to start doing this, it’s really helpful to be on camera regularly to get comfortable. Even if you’re doing it on the web cam on the computer in your office, it’s still a little nerve racking. The hour before we start we always get a little nervous.
Is there any topic you talk about that seems to make your audience engage with you more?
Quintano: The most engagement we’ve seen has been when we respond directly to the viewers and answer their questions in real-time. There hasn’t been any one particular topic that has stood out among the others.
How else are you using Facebook Live?
Quintano: We cover a lot of press conferences and town hall meetings, especially when nobody else is streaming them, to make sure we can bring that information to people who can’t be there.
We also stream our events to make sure those who can’t attend in person can still view or participate from home or on the mainland. For our last event we coordinated watch parties at multiple libraries across the neighboring islands to view a discussion on news literacy.
Jennifer Nelson is the senior information specialist at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Previously, she was the news editor of the Osceola (Iowa) Sentinel-Tribune.